The tradition inherits the teachings of Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism, in particular the tradition that comes through Guru Padmashambhava and then through Dudjom Lingpa (1835-1904). It is preserved and practiced within the ‘The New Treasures of Dudjom’, the corpus of teachings compiled, revealed by Dudjom Lingpa pertaining to 'Atiyoga' great perfection.
Among the disciples of Dudjom Lingpa, at least thirteen are said to have attained rainbow body, a sign of attainment as per the ancient school. Pema Dewé Gyalpo known as Degyal Rinpoche Kunkhyen Etaraja (1873-1933) was one of them. He had meditated in a remote region in Namkha Khyung Dzong, "Space Garuda Fortress” near Mt Kailash and Lake Manasarovar in West Tibet for 35 years, while also revealing and compiling teachings. He was eventually regarded as a supreme mentor and guide by practitioners of all spiritual traditions in the region including lay men and women. He was also regarded by the 13th Dalai Lama as his teacher of longevity practices. A selfless hermit and realized saint of Atiyoga, he guided all who came in touch with him through his teachings that encompassed and comprehended all field of wisdom . A tradition and school thus developed after him.
One of the principle disciples of Degyal Rinpoche, Golok Serta Rinpoche brought the teachings to the Nepalese Himalayas and further. He passed it down to second Degyal Rinpoche, Kushog Tsewang Rinpoche and other disciples. Thus, the tradition continues through the lineage teachers, hermits who meditate and practice them as a lifelong pursuit.
According to the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism, Buddhist teachings can be collected into nine yanas, or vehicles. Since it is that which transports beings along the paths and grounds towards enlightenment, it is referred to as a vehicle. The following is a brief presentation of the vehicles.
Three outer vehicles leading from the origin of suffering
The three causal vehicles of characteristics are the śrāvaka, pratyekabuddha and bodhisattva vehicles. They are so-called because they lead us towards the state of freedom from suffering by abandoning actions and obscurations which are the cause or ‘origin’ of suffering. The motivation in the sravaka stage is the feeling of renunciation, the wish to escape from the sufferings of mundane phenomena. The activity involves observing discipline with regards to body, speech and thought. Meditation is on calm abiding śamatha or tranquility, gradually evolving into insight, sublime seeing. In the stage of pratyekabuddha, one meditates further on the twelve links of interdependent origination. As one evolves, one’s view is further refined and subtle. At the Bodhisattva level, the focus is on generating compassion, with six transcendent perfections such as generosity, ethical disciple, forbearance, diligence and concentration, culminating in transcendent wisdom beyond constructs.
The three outer tantras
Then the next level of vehicle includes entering into the teachings of tanra, the inner continuum. There are three outer classes of tantra: kriyā, caryā , and yoga tantra. Here, the stress is on ascetic conduct and ritual purification similar to the Vedic tradition. Meditation in the beginning involves visualization of wisdom deities, ‘gyanasatva’ as the king and oneself 'samayasatva as the subject and one seeks accomplishment and meditates aided by ritual offerings . As one evolves, one begins to gain familiarity, closeness with the wisdom deity as sibling, friend and eventually one visualizes the wisdom deity dissolving into oneself as water being poured into water. One thus meditates from the gross to the subtle and from external to internal.
The Three Inner Tantras
There are three systems of meditation: The Father Tantra, Mother Tantra, and the Nondual Tantra. The Father Tantra mainly includes the generation phase of visualizing the deity as being luminosity inseparable from the great openness, emptiness. The Mother Tantra primarily involves the completion phase of meditating on bliss inseparable from this great openness, emptiness. The Nondual Tantra involves meditation on the generative and completion phases in union. According to the tradition of the Nyingma School, these three are called Mahayoga, Anuyoga, Atiyoga.
The basic view of Mahayoga , ‘great yoga’ is to realize the inseparability of apparent phenomena and great openness which is absolute truth. One learns to meditate on everything as the appearance of pure phenomena which is the relative truth. This involves practicing total non-differentiation, and non-discrimination such as between dirty and clean, self and others. In the Anuyoga, one trains in establishing the mental sphere of unborn space and its unobstructed luminosity. The inseparability of the two leads to the sphere of great bliss. The practice involves meditation on subtle channels, air, and the essence within our subtle body, mind.
All the preceding paths have evolved as foundations of entry into Atiyoga. The special instructions of Atiyoga establishes the view that all phenomena are spontaneously enlightened from the beginning. The practice involves establishing primordially pure wisdom through the natural revelation of the ‘cutting through the solidity’ of phenomena and ‘passing spontaneously to the direct, clear light manifestation of the enlightened state. There are specific instructions and meditations most one follows to facilitate the realization. The result of Atiyoga is the realization that the spontaneous, primordially awakened state is right here and now, that there is no need to look and search beyond it. It is the recognition of purity and spontaneity in which the mundane world is naturally nirvana.
(References: Natural Liberation of Dualistic Confusion (gZung dZin Khrul-pa Rang Drol ) by Degyal Rinpoche and 'The Small Golden Key' by Dungsey Thinley Norbu Rinpoche
The Vajrayana tradition or also known as the 'Diamond vehicle' encompasses a comprehensive path to enlightenment with various stages, each with specific practice manuals and guides. In general, the path for a devoted practitioner follows the following stages.
As the foundational practice, it includes a set of reflection and meditations which makes mind supple and receptive to higher teachings. In fact, the preliminary practices involves training on all key aspects of Buddhist meditation practice and on its own also serves as complete path of transcendence. Preliminaries cover two phases. In the outer general preliminary, it involves reflection on rarity and value of life with freedoms and advantages, on impermanence, on actions, cause and effect, and on defects of mundane life. One invokes a sense of renunciation and an urge towards virtue and higher knowledge.
One relies on a teacher and engages in inner preliminaries such as taking refuge (which involves committing to the practice, teacher and the assembly) ; generating mind of awakening 'bodhicitta' ; accumulating merit through mandala offering ; purification of obscurations with meditation on Vajrasattva (state of purity) ; and Guru yoga, uniting with the wisdom mind of the enlightened masters. Often each element of the five fold practice is accumulated five hundred thousand times or as seen fit by the teacher before proceeding to the subsequent practices. In the conclusions of preliminaries, one also practices on the cutting through "Chod' for swift realization of natural state and also on the transference of consciousness practice which enables those unable to practice the path to fully still can transcend at the moment of death. These practices can be in a retreat environment or one’s own home dedicating certain times in day beyond work.
In this stage, one visualizes chosen meditation deity and their pure sphere invoking an enlightened vision of phenomena. It may be artificial and imaginary in the beginning but since they pertain to the enlightened vision of the past masters, one ultimately becomes familiar and one with the vision. One adopts new habits of perception, refining ordinary habits and engages at more subtle levels of experience.
As one progresses to a stage where the pure vision becomes a living experience, one proceeds into further levels which involves meditating on subtle energies of the body, channels, and essences. Ordinary perceptions of gross body, speech and mind begin falling apart into their inner subtleties, along with supreme bliss and wisdom.
Great Perfection, Atiyoga:
As one progresses with the above stages, one familiarizes with the illustrative aspect of wisdom through meditative experiences. These act as pointers to the ultimate nature of reality. One is then introduced to the nature of mind directly by an experienced teacher. One then familiarizes, establishes into the direct vision of the ultimate nature of mind, the absolute wisdom beyond reference points. The practice in order to realize and establish it involves ‘cutting through of solidity’ to original purity (Trekchö ) and 'leap over' to spontaneous presence (Thögal). One undergoes specific postures, gazes and object of focus to activate this spontaneous, luminous aspect of mind. As the practice culminates, one transcends beyond all bondage of the subject object duality, remaining in non-dual wisdom beyond constructs. These practices are traditionally done in retreat environment.
The preliminary practices serve as the prerequisite for the subsequent higher practices. As one engages in later stages, guidance and instructions from an experienced teacher is the key. Various texts and manuals are used as a complimentary to the oral instructions of a teacher.
There are four major cycles of teachings revealed, compiled by Dudjom Lingpa.
The following are some of the major texts and teachings